Because Japan no longer trusts the quality of United States intelligence, it has embarked on creating its own foreign intelligence service, modeled on Britain's MI-6. U.S.-Japanese intelligence cooperation has existed since the end of World War II, but Japanese officials do not believe the United States has shared with Japan the type of intelligence that is seen as important for Japan's own national security interests in Asia.
The twin decline of the economies of the United States and Japan has prompted China to exercise a more aggressive stance, especially with regard to Taiwan and disputed maritime boundaries and islands in the waters of the eastern Pacific, including the South China and East China Seas.
Currently, China has a massive naval presence ringing the Japanese island of Okinawa, where the United States maintains a large military presence. The Chinese are conducting their naval exercise to demonstrate to the Americans that China can interdict the transport of U.S. Marines and aircraft to Taiwan in the event of a Chinese military attack.
China is also building a fleet of super-modern aircraft carriers, with the first expected to be deployed in 2015.
China has also become more aggressive in interdicting U.S. spy flights conducted near its waters, especially in the Taiwan Straits.
Japan and China are facing each other down over the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, with Japanese Coast Guard vessels keeping a close eye on a Chinese maritime research vessel that had been deployed to waters off Uotsori island, part of the Senkakus, which are currently controlled by Japan. Taiwan also lays claim to the Senkakus.
Not only are Japan and China disputing the ownership of islands in the East China Sea, but Japan and South Korea are currently locked in a bitter dispute over some rocky and practically uninhabited specks of land in the Sea of Japan called the Liancourt Rocks. Japan claims what it calls the Takeshima islands but South Korea, which calls the islets Dokdo, also claims ownership. South Korea has upped the ante by announcing plans to build a base on the islands, a move that is bound to trigger a response from Japan.
North Korea also claims the Liancourt Rocks.
China and South Korea both claim Socotra Rock, a submerged rocky mass in the East China Sea.
Rival claims to the Spratley and Paracel islands in the South China Sea, has nations seeking to enforce their claims scrambling to build up their own military forces and forge new alliances. The United States and Vietnam are establishing new military links. Vietnam is locked in a war of words with China over rival claims to the Paracels. Tensions have also increased between the Philippines and China over sovereignty of disputed Spratley islands, as well as Scarborough Shoal. Taiwan, Malaysia, and Brunei have also staked claims to the islands.
Currently, the maritime boundary and island disputes have been relegated to wars of words and military "show of force" exercises. However, with American influence receding, it is only a matter of time before the chest beating between the rival regional powers could escalate into something more dangerous to the peace of the region.
On this 66th anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb by the United States on Hiroshima, there is a general sense that the Japanese people are involved in a national re-awakening. With the people of Japan nervously eyeing the fluctuating levels from the crippled nuclear reactors at Fukushima, the Japanese people are no longer willing to accept everything their government tells them at face value. And there is the belief by many that Fukushima may have been Japan's "Chernobyl" moment. The Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the Soviet republic of Ukraine in 1986 and the Kremlin's policy of lying about the scope of the disaster is thought to have been a contributing factor to the downfall of the Soviet regime.
Similarly, the government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan was roundly condemned by many Japanese for acting as a virtual public relations arm for the Fukshima complex's operator, the once politically-powerful Tokyo Elecrtric Company (TEPCO). Government oversight of the Japanese nuclear industry was seen as being nothing more than providing window dressing without any regulatory teeth. There are calls for the new oversight authority, the Nuclear Safety Agency, to have more independence from the government and the nuclear industry and provide real regulatory oversight over an industry that for years has curried political favors from successive Japanese governments.
A government panel has now concluded that TEPCO must pay compensation to inns, tour operators, travel agencies, and hotels last lost money after foreign tourists canceled their trips to Japan amid worries over the effects of radiation from the crippled Number 1 nuclear plant at Fukushima. TEPCO has also been ordered to compensate the tea, flower, beef, and manufacturing sectors.
The blow to Japan's economy from the March earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown has many Japanese fearful about international financial vultures manipulating the Japanese economy for their own personal gain. The increase in value of the yen, which adversely affects Japanese exports, is believed to be a part of the manipulation by the same group of bankers who have wreaked havoc on the economies of Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and the United States, forcing the adoption of crippling austerity measures that cuts sustaining wages and benefits to the middle and lower classes.
If Japan ends up in the same boat as some European countries and the United States, there is a fear in Japan that there could be an International Monetary Fund-dictated massive sell-off of public property and the end of Japan's generous social safety net programs, including public health care.
There are even whispers by some influential Japanese that it is such interests as the Rothschild banking family that is secretly manipulating the attacks on the Japanese economy, sensing its vulnerability is the aftermath of the triple quake, tsunami, and nuclear disasters. The concurrent belief that Japan never actually re-gained its independence after General Douglas MacArthur's occupation regime came to power after Japan's surrender in 1945 is also gaining strength.
Distrust of the United States, seen as being in the hip-pocket of the Rothschild-George Soros-Goldman Sachs axis, coupled with a fear of the growing military and economic might to China, which has overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy, has resulted in growing calls for Japan to, once again, re-assert its political and military muscle by scrapping the U.S.-imposed Self Defense Forces and engaging in a rapid military build-up that would enable Japan to project its power beyond its own airspace and waters.
Amid the concrete and glass towers of Tokyo there are stirrings about what the global bankers have in store for Japan.
Korean-American writer Paul Yoon's 2009 short story collection Once the Shore (Sarabande), which won the prize for fiction at the 13th Asian American Literary Awards, is set on a fictionalized version of Jeju Island and deals with the devastating impact of militarism, colonialism, and the cold war on a rugged island culture.
In Once the Shore, Yoon gives us Oceania from below, an island multitude composed of service workers, farmers, divers, fishermen, war orphans, and various others who form strange friendships across barriers of age, gender, ethnicity, and nationality. The lead story is set in the present and opens with a sixty-something American woman at a high-end tourist resort gazing out over the ocean while thinking about her deceased husband, a Korean War veteran who she comes to realize probably cheated on her and lied about it when he returned from the war.
She befriends a young Korean waiter who often stands behind her listening, "as if it weren't her voice at all, but one that originated from the sea." During the woman's visit, the waiter's brother, a fisherman, is killed when an American submarine on training exercises surfaces and sinks his fishing boat.
Throughout the story, the waiter fixates on the terror of drowning. Cold War past and present is fused in the widow's and waiter's discrepant memories of loved ones, their awkward, distracted friendship grounded in the ability to partially identify with the other's loss, a process of identification that appears as each gazes silently out over the ocean, beneath the glimmering surface of which submarines cruise like whales on a hunt. Yoon has commented that the initial idea for this story came from the sinking of the Ehime Maru, a Japanese fishing boat, by the USS Greenville, an American nuclear-powered submarine, off the coast of Oahu in 2001.
The relevance of Yoon's stories to the real Jeju Island has recently intensified as concrete has begun to pour on coral reefs to make way for an "eco-friendly" military base for South Korea's expanding blue water navy, at the head of which is the 18,000 ton assault ship symbolically named the Dokdo, which makes it almost as big as the island in the East Sea it is named after.
Many believe that the base may also provide "lily pad" support for the United States Navy. Leading local activists in the anti-base movement have been arrested while peace activists from all over the world have begun to lend their support, most notably feminist writer Gloria Steinem.
In a letter to friends that has circulated widely on the Internet, Steinem describes the epic volcanic beauty of Jeju Island, which is home to three United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage Sites. Steinem concludes the letter stating, "Jeju Island means Women's Island. It stands for an ancient balance. We must save it from the cult of militarism that endangers us all, women and men." Jeju is home to both The International Peace Institute and Jeju Peace Forum. In 2005, former Korean president Roh Moo-hyun declared Jeju an "Island of World Peace."
Both Mongolia, which ruled Jeju from 1273 to 1374, and Japan, which ruled Jeju from 1910 to 1945, fought to capitalize on Jeju's strategic proximity to China, Russia, and Japan. In 1948, a multitudinous protest movement on Jeju known as the April 3 Uprising organized against the appointment of Syngman Rhee as president of Korea by the US military.
The violent crackdown on supposed communists and communist-sympathizers by the South Korean army resulted in the death of somewhere around 30,000 Jeju civilians. The April 3 Uprising has become a symbol of Jeju's independence from the mainland. As historian Bruce Cumings notes, "The people were deeply separatist and did not like mainlanders; their wish was to be left alone." This attitude is reflected in the Korean drama Tamra: the Island, which is set on Jeju during the 17th century and depicts tensions between the between local divers and farmers and an exploitative Confucian elite residing in Seoul.
Protesters are concerned about the cultural and environmental impacts of the base and it is estimated that as much as 90% of the people of Gangjeong, the village on the southern part of Jeju where the base is being constructed, are currently in opposition. The histories of colonialism and the cold war are still alive in the bodies and minds of the people of Jeju who fought against both Japanese colonialism and cold war authoritarianism.
The remilitarization of Jeju could pour salt water on wounds that have never fully healed. In an article in the Jeju Weekly, Dr Anne Hilty, a cultural health psychologist living on Jeju Island writes: "In a society brutalized and traumatized by the national military, the idea of a military base on the island which will house 25,000 troops is difficult for Jeju's people to accept."
The November 23, 2010 bombing, evacuation, and increased military deployment on Yeonpyeong Island located near the disputed maritime border of North and South Korea made it clear that the cold war is still hot in this part of the world. We are currently witnessing a re-cold warring of the Pacific Rim of Asia as China looks to expand control over shipping lanes in the South China Sea and the US and Korea move to contain China by expanding into the East China Sea.
When I first moved to Korea in 2005, I believed that I would see a peaceful end to the Korean War in my lifetime. But with the wreckage of militarization piling up from all directions in the Asia-Pacific region, that hope is being blown farther and farther into the future. In a recent article for Project Syndicate, former Philippines president Fidel Ramos argues that a Pax Asia-Pacifica needs to replace Pax Americana in the region in order to "contain our rivalries and avoid the arms buildup that, unfortunately, now seem to be underway".
Fictional narratives like Once the Shore and Tamra: the Island work to restore humanity to islanders, a humanity that is stripped away when islands are viewed as strategic pieces in a regional game of risk. There was no great outpouring of support in South Korea for the people of Yeonpyeong, and there have been no candlelight vigils in downtown Seoul over the basing of Jeju, perhaps because as islanders, the people of Yeonpyeong and Gangjeong are islanders on the periphery of the nation. But what about the people for whom the periphery is the center? For whom the island is the mainland?